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Cristiano Ronaldo at Madrid was
Your goals, your numbers and everything we’ve won together speak for themselves,” Sergio Ramos said once the news finally broke. Real Madrid’s players had doubted that it would come to this, that he would really do it and that they would really let him, but this time it was real. Barely minutes after the
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Champions League final, before the trophy had been handed over, Cristiano Ronaldo said that it had been – past tense – nice being at Madrid. Moments later Florentino Pérez, the president with whom there was little warmth, said he had heard before and in the end nothing ever happens. But he had not, not like this, and in the end it did.
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was made at 5.34 Spanish time. After nine years at the Santiago Bernabéu Cristiano Ronaldo was joining Juventus for €100m (£88.3m), plus €5m to be paid to his former clubs. The 33-year-old has signed a four-year deal reportedly worth around €30m a year, after tax; the total cost is estimated to be €345m.
That is a lot of numbers, and there are many more. Sometimes it can feel as if that is all there is. As Real Madrid’s captain put it in his farewell to the ‘Bicho’, the Beast: your goals, your numbers speak for themselves. These are not, it appears, days for poetry, which is a pity. If a picture paints a thousand words – and the sports daily AS marked the occasion by leading on one last photo of Ronaldo topless, this time from the Greek island where the deal was closed – then it sometimes seems numbers make them obsolete. The stats say it all – especially when they are like these, so absurd.
When Ronaldo was presented at Madrid, the club’s nine European Cups were lined up at the Bernabéu. He looked at them, impressed. Nine years on, four more have been added – including three in a row, four in five years. This is their most successful era, the best any club has had in the competition since they won the first five titles, led by Alfredo Di Stéfano – the man who changed their history and made them what they are, the man who sat watching Ronaldo that night, clutching his walking stick. Ronaldo also won two league titles, two Copa del Reys and three Club World Cups.
More importantly – and there may be something telling in those two words – Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or five times and may well make that six this winter, and is the all-time top scorer in the Champions League, unsurpassed in each of the past six seasons. He scored 311 in the Spanish league. He scored 44 hat-tricks, for goodness sake. He scored more goals at Madrid than anyone else, ever. He overtook Emilio Butragueño, Hugo Sánchez, Carlos Santillana, Raúl and Di Stéfano. He averaged more than a goal a game (1.029); only Ferenc Puskas on 0.92 came close. Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games. 451, according to the sports daily Marca (a deflected free-kick from 2010 remains disputed).
Marca bade “farewell to a legend”, declaring “there won’t be another like him”, by printing the goals across a double-paged front cover: 451 little footballs, one for each strike, marked with the badge of the club that conceded them. The balls fill every space, peppered all across the page; a telling image expressing the indiscriminate nature of it, the relentlessness that defines him, the magnitude of it all. It is a useful image too: it can be exhausting just looking at the figures, a sea of digits, and it can also be easy to gloss over them. Some variation on that old line, supposedly introduced by Stalin: one goal is a triumph but 450 of them is a statistic.
And while statistics brook little argument, they also leave little room for lyricism. They can reduce everything to numbers and risk making the extraordinary routine. They normalise it – just another goal, just another hat-trick – when it is not normal. They also make it too easy to leave the analysis there, the eulogies too, failing to invite imagination or a full appreciation of an astonishing footballer who marked an era. “It was nice while it lasted,”
one headline said, as if it had not lasted long when this was an entire decade of dominance at the biggest club of them all. This is part of the problem: it is as if what
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so magnificent also makes it
oddly mundane: Ronaldo? Stupid amounts of goals. And that’s it. But it is not it.
Even the one that Ronaldo said was his best, the overhead kick that he scored against the club that is now his own and the goal that sits in the middle of the sea of balls on Marca’s cover, while “framed” by picture desks and declared a work of art, ended up being quantified. Diagrams purported to show how high he had leapt, the angle of his body, like something from an engineering analysis. Man becomes machine. A beast, perhaps. An extraterrestrial, Álvaro Arbeloa called him.
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